The concluding concert of this year’s International Centre for Performing Artists Singing Stars program for this year took place last night at 96.3FM. For the eleven singers it was the culmination of a day working with Adrianne Pieczonka and a lot of practice and I think that came through on the night. In the various interviews during the show (it was being broadcast live), many of the singers remarked on Adrianne’s advice to be an artist, not just a singer (or something to that effect). Certainly I felt there was less strictly correct singing and more effort to get inside the music and words than one often hears in competitions.
Krystyna Zywulska was a Polish resistance fighter who was captured and sent to Auschwitz. She took to writing lyrics and setting them to an eclectic mix of tunes as a way of coping with the horror of the camp. Somehow this was pleasing to the powers that be and she found herself with a relatively soft job processing the possessions of arriving prisoners. She survived to write a number of memoirs about her experience. The story is oddly similar to that of Zofia Posmysz, who inspired Weinberg’s The Passenger. This time the opera is Another Sunrise; a collaboration of Gene Scheer and Jake Heggie commissioned by Music of Remembrance and premiered in 2012. There’s a companion piece by the same team; Farewell Auschwitz, which sets some of the Zywulska texts, in translation and reworking by Scheer, to a wide range of the kinds of music that Zywulska used. Last night both pieces got their Canadian premiers in a production by Electric Bond Ensemble at Beth Tzedec directed by Aaron Willis.
The Opera Division’s fall production this year is Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Marilyn Gronsdal. Let’s start with the production. The sets are all paper and boxes with a few props and the costuming is 1940s. The aesthetic is film noir. There are trilbies and Don Ottavio is packing a piece in a shoulder holster. It set, for me and my companion at least, an expectation that this would be a “film noir production” but although there were nods in that direction; Leporello as the comic sidekick, statuette of the Commendatore as the murder weapon for example, the idea wasn’t really developed at all. Instead we got a very straightforward narrative with the a few twists. Gronsdal included a chorus of silent women who comment on the action (didn’t she do this in Saskatoon as well?) and Don Giovanni isn’t dragged down to Hell.
Such was the title of yesterday’s performance by the UoT Opera ‘s performance in the RBA. Now personally I don’t subscribe to the notion of the 19th century (ugh!) as a “golden age” of anything but yesterday suggested that the UoT program, if not quite in golden age territory is going through a bit of a purple patch. This was, I think, the best student performance overall that I have heard in the last two or three years.
Last night’s concert by the UoT Fall Baroque Academy was more Sesto in a Sauna then Giulio Cesare in Egitto. The music was all from Handel’s arguably greatest opera but the great man himself went unrepresented. Various mezzos and sopranos plus a counter tenor got through pretty much all of Sesto’s arias, Cleo’s big three arias were all presented and there was a smattering of Cornelia, Tolomeo and one aria from Achilla,the only low voice on display. The venue was Trinity College Chapel, notably not only for lack of air conditioning (on the hottest day of the year) but also for an acoustic that is kind to instrumental ensembles but tends to suck voices up into the high vaulted roof. Some singers coped better than others.
UoT’s show Porgi amor consisted of a series of staged and costumed scenes from Mozart operas with linking commentary, all designed by Michael Patrick Albano. The operas ranged from La finta giardiniera to La clemenza di Tito with all the major bases in between covered off. The emphasis was on ensemble numbers and providing opportunities for as many singers as possible so there was a cast of thousands. It was well structured, quite slick and there was some very decent singing. One expects a reasonably high standard from UoT Opera and we got it. As I usually do with this kind of show I’ll refrain from a play-by-play and just talk about a few highlights and do some “talent spotting”.